How Fintech is Eating the Banks’ Lunch

It was another dreadful DAY for the banks. All bank shares are now down in 2019 with the sole exception of JP Morgan, which is up a modest 10% since January 1. Although their core business is good, the share price hasn’t even bothered to mail it in.

So, I thought it would be time to take another look at what is disrupting the 200-year-old business model of this sector. And that would be Fintech, shorthand for Financial Technology.

To say that fintech was gobbling up the financial industry’s lunch would be a vast understatement. But here’s the problem. Fintech is taking over the world one transaction at a time in an industry that sees billions of transactions a year. The change is almost invisible. If someone were blowing up bank branches on a large scale this would be a far easier trend to see, but the net effect is the same.

The potential market is enormous. While the world’s physical money totals $5 trillion, actual assets controlled by banks today total a staggering $90 trillion.

Why this is all happening now is due to a confluence of several independent technologies. The number of people on the Internet has soared from 1.8 billion in 2010 to 4 billion today, to 8 billion by 2024.

Smartphone usage is diffusing at a similar rate. The roll out of 5G wireless assures that all communications will occur seamlessly, quickly, including financial transactions. Blockchain is enabling encryption on an industrial scale.

This has enabled the rise of a number of online firms over just the last few years that are rapidly taking over a number of traditional banking functions.

So far, the greatest impact has been overseas. Many countries that lack banking infrastructure are leapfrogging straight to mobile. It makes a ton of sense. Poor countries lack the capital to build expensive branch networks to raise fund, and the expertise on how to invest the deposits once in hand.

Good Money (https://goodmoney.com ) is an example of the new online banks that have burst onto the scene. The company offers depositors a generous 1.8% interest rate on overnight funds. Legacy banks are still paying close to zero, even though the Fed has raised rates seven times in three years.

US banks charge an average of $400 in fees a year for a full-service account. Good Money charges nothing. 

You will never know where the money goes when you place it with Citibank (C), Bank of America (BAC) or Wells Fargo (WFC). At Good Money, you can specify that your funds be lent to a certain industry or even a specific company. While this means nothing to you or me, it is important issue to oriented Millennials.

Such efforts are called Crowdlending. It first took off in the US with startups like Prosper and Lending Club in the mid 2000s. We’re not talking small potatoes here, or a market that might develop someday. In 2018, some 22,000 businesses extended $380 billion in such loans.

There are other big markets ripe for disruption. I had to pay a Filipino developer $500 for some work he did on my website. Wells Fargo wanted to charge me $50 and the wire transfer would have taken a week. An outfit called Payoneer, Israel-based, did it for $5 and it took 5 seconds.

Wire transfer fees are in fact a global industry worth billions of dollars a year that is there for the taking. The SWIFT international transfer network alone processes some 24 million transactions per day.

It may not surprise many of you that China already has a huge lead in this area. It’s logical since their established banking system is primitive at best. China has three times more mobile phones than the US, five times more Internet customers, sees 10 times more eat-out orders, and 50 times more mobile transactions. In a future where data is currency, this is huge.

Ant Financial, an affiliate of Alibaba (BABA), is in the forefront, facilitating an eye-popping $8 trillion worth of transactions in 2017. Using artificial intelligence to scour public records for past borrowing, income, education, web surfing preferences, and even political leanings, smart finance can use artificial intelligence to gin up a quickie FICO score and generate a new $200 micro loan in as little as eight seconds.

Bank of America eat your heart out.

What gives the Chinese such an advantage here is their huge market, with some 800 million online participants. The money Ant Financial makes isn’t important now. It’s the digitized data they’re collecting and the way it can be manipulated with artificial intelligence. That gives them immense market power. Remember, in the new world, data is the new currency and the Chinese are creating more than we ever will.

The problem with early, under-the-radar but broad-ranging trends, it can be tough to flesh out pure investment plays. Listed liquid tradable stocks are few and far between. You can simply go out and buy Square (SQ) and PayPal (PYPL) and you’d be half the way there in getting some good exposure.

Here’s the problem with that plan. PayPal has tripled in the last two years, while Square has gone ballistic with a 2,000% gain. I expect further appreciation from here, but those ships have already sailed.

A better way to participate might be the Global X Fintech Thematic ETF (FINX), granted you have all the usual problems with specialized ETFs here such as liquidity, high management fees, and tracking error. But you do get exposure to a number of companies that are either domiciled abroad or are not yet publicly listed.

The five largest holdings of (FINX) include Square (SQ), Wirecard AG (WCAGY), Temenos Group AG, Fiserve Inc (FISV), and Intuit (INTU).

You could also simply buy Alibaba. However, as long as America’s trade war with China continues, all Chinese stocks will perform poorly. Given the stubbornness of both sides, the earliest that can happen is January, 2021.

To learn more about (FINX), please go to the manager’s website by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 

Days Gone By

How to Gain an Advantage with Parallel Trading

One of the most fascinating things I learned when I first joined the equity trading desk at Morgan Stanley during the early 1980s was how to parallel trade.

A customer order would come in to buy a million shares of General Motors (GM) and what did the in-house proprietary trading book do immediately?

It loaded the boat with the shares of Ford Motors (F).

When I asked about this tactic, I was taken away to a quiet corner of the office and read the riot act.

“This is how you legally front run a customer,” I was told.

Buy (GM) in front of a customer order, and you will find yourself in Sing Sing shortly.

Ford (F), Toyota (TM), Nissan (NSANY), Daimler Benz (DDAIF), BMW (BMWYY), or Volkswagen (VWAPY), are no problem.

The logic here was very simple.

Perhaps the client completed an exhaustive piece of research concluding that (GM) earnings were about to rise.

Or maybe a client old boy network picked up some valuable insider information.

(GM) doesn’t do business in isolation. It has tens of thousands of parts suppliers for a start. While whatever is good for (GM) is good for America, it is GREAT for the auto industry.

So through buying (F) on the back of a (GM) might not only match the (GM) share performance, it might even exceed it.

This is known as a Primary Parallel Trade.

This understanding led me on a lifelong quest to understand Cross Asset Class Correlations, which continues to this day.

Whenever you buy one thing, you buy another related thing as well, which might do considerably better.

I eventually made friends with a senior trader at Salomon Brothers while they were attempting to recruit me to run their Japanese desk.

I asked if this kind of legal front running happened on their desk.

“Absolutely,” he responded. But he then took Cross Asset Class Correlations to a whole new level for me.

Not only did Salomons buy (F) in that situation, they also bought palladium (PALL).

I was puzzled. Why palladium?

Because palladium is the principal metal used in catalytic converters, which remove toxic emissions from car exhaust, and have been required for every U.S. manufactured car since 1975.

Lots of car sales, which the (GM) buying implied, ALSO meant lots of palladium buying.

And here’s the sweetener.

Palladium trading is relatively illiquid.

So, if you catch a surge in the price of this white metal, you would earn a multiple of what you would make on your boring old parallel (F) trade.

This is known in the trade as a Secondary Parallel Trade.

A few months later, Morgan Stanley sent me to an investment conference to represent the firm.

I was having lunch with a trader at Goldman Sachs (GS) who would later become a famous hedge fund manager and asked him about the (GM)-(F)-(PALL) trade.

He said I would be an IDIOT not to take advantage of such correlations. Then he one-upped me.

You can do a Tertiary Parallel Trade here through buying mining equipment companies such as Caterpillar (CAT), Cummins (CMI), and Komatsu (KMTUY).

Since this guy was one of the smartest traders I ever ran into, I asked him if there was such a thing as a Quaternary Parallel Trade.

He answered “Abso******lutely,” as was his way.

But the first thing he always did when searching for Quaternary Parallel Trades would be to buy the country ETF for the world’s largest supplier of the commodity in question.

In the case of palladium, that would be Russia (RSX) followed by South Africa (EZA), which together account for 74% of the world’s total production.

Since then, I have discovered hundreds of what I call Parallel Trading Chains, and have been actively making money off of them. So have you, you just haven’t realized it yet.

I could go on and on.

If you ever become puzzled or confused about a trade alert I am sending out (Why on earth is he doing THAT?), there is often a parallel trade in play.

Do this for decades as I have and you learn that some parallel trades break down and die. The cross relationships no longer function.

The best example I can think of is the photography/silver connection. When the photography business was booming, silver prices rose smartly.

Digital photography wiped out this trade, and silver-based film development is still only used by a handful of professionals and hobbyists.

Oh, and Eastman Kodak (KODK) went bankrupt in 2012.

However, it seems that whenever one Parallel Trading Chain disappears, many more replace it.

You could build chains a mile long simply based on how well Apple (AAPL) is doing.

And guess what? There is a new parallel trade in silver developing. For whenever someone builds a solar panel anywhere in the world, they are using a small amount of silver for the wiring. Build several tens of millions of solar panels and that can add up to quite a lot of silver.

What goes around comes around.

Suffice it to say that parallel trading is an incredibly useful trading strategy.

Ignore it at your peril.

 

 

 

Last Chance to buy the New Mad Hedge Biotech and Healthcare Letter at the Founders Price, or The Newsletter That May Save Your Life!

This weekend, we are closing down our discount offer page to buy the New Mad Hedge Biotech and Healthcare Letter at the Founders Price for only $997.

There are two stock sectors that will most likely deliver 80% of the total market return over the coming decade. You already know one of them. The other is:

Biotechnology and Healthcare

An exciting combination of new technologies is coming together, much like the creation of the PC, Windows, and the Internet launched all at the same time in the early 1990s. The result of that revolution was a 10-fold to 1,000-fold increase in many stock prices.

They are about to replay the same movie again! Except this time, biotech and healthcare shares will be the big beneficiaries.

Long held back as a political punching bag, Biotechnology and Healthcare shares are about to break free of their past restraints. The ten baggers will be a dime a dozen. The drivers are very simple:

*Our understanding of the human genome is growing at an exponential rate

*The development of new supercomputers and big data is answering research questions once considered impossible

*Most major human diseases will be cured over the next decade

*US healthcare, the last 19th-century industry, is about to undergo a major restructuring, delivering immense profits

*Diabetes, arthritis, and dementia will all be treated with simple daily pills

*Artificial intelligence is vastly accelerating all of the above trends

With Your Subscription You Will Get:

1) A twice-weekly research newsletter highlighting the most important developments in biotech and healthcare

2) Immediately actionable text and email Trade Alerts sent out at market sweet spots

3) Same-day answers to emailed questions about specific biotech companies

4) Special reports on the dominant trends and players in biotech and healthcare

5) Access to a biotech and healthcare ten-year database

Gaining an unfair advantage in the most important investment theme of your lifetime will be the best decision you ever made!

The Mad Hedge Biotech and Healthcare Letter is already listed in my store at $1,500 a year. If you subscribe this week only, you can obtain a founder’s price of only $997. Act fast. We’ll be taking down this one-time offer this weekend.

To take advantage of this unique opportunity please click here.

 

Google’s Major Breakthrough in Quantum Computing

I have been following quantum computing since they moved from the theoretical to the practical about five years ago.

The reason is very simple. They promise to bring a 1 trillion-fold increase in computing power at zero cost, promising to solve in seconds some of the world’s most vexing problems.

They also have the potential to ramp the stock market up at least ten times over the next decade and bring on a new golden age. No kidding!

Last week, an academic paper leaked and was quickly withdrawn suggesting that Google has accomplished a major breakthrough in the field.

Google claims to have built the first quantum computer that can carry out calculations beyond the ability of today’s most powerful supercomputers, a landmark moment that has been hotly anticipated by researchers.

A paper by Google’s researchers was briefly posted earlier this week on a NASA website before being removed, claimed that their processor was able to perform a calculation in three minutes and 20 seconds that would take today’s most advanced classical computer, known as Summit, approximately 10,000 years. Yikes!

The researchers said this meant the “quantum supremacy,” when quantum computers carry out calculations that had previously been impossible, had been achieved. This dramatic speed-up relative to all known classical algorithms provides an experimental realization of quantum supremacy on a computational task and heralds the advent of a much-anticipated computing paradigm. This experiment marks the first computation that can only be performed on a quantum processor.

The system can only perform a single, highly technical calculation, according to the researchers, and the use of quantum machines to solve practical problems is still years away. But the Google researchers called it “a milestone towards full- scale quantum computing.”

They also predicted that the power of quantum machines would expand at a “double exponential rate”, compared to the exponential rate of Moore’s Law, which has driven advances in silicon chips in the first era of computing. That means a potential doubling of computing power every nine months with a halving of cost.

While prototypes of so-called quantum computers do exist, developed by companies ranging from IBM (IBM) to start-ups such as Rigetti Computing, they can only perform the same limited tasks classical computers can, albeit quicker. There is also a huge problem accessing stored data. Quantum computers, if they can be built at scale, will harness properties that extend beyond the limits of classical physics to offer exponential gains in computing power.

A November 2018 report by the Boston Consulting Group said they could “change the game in such fields as cryptography and chemistry (and thus material science, agriculture and pharmaceuticals) not to mention artificial intelligence and machine learning . . . logistics, manufacturing, finance and energy”.

Unlike the basic binary elements of classical computers, or bits, which represent either zeros or ones, quantum bits, or “qubits”, can represent both at the same time. By stringing together qubits, the number of states they could represent rises exponentially, making it possible to compute millions of possibilities instantly.

Some researchers have warned against overhyping the quantum supremacy, arguing that it does not suggest that quantum machines will quickly overtake traditional computers and bring a revolution in computing. Led by John Martinis, an experimental physicist from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Google first predicted it would reach quantum supremacy by the end of 2017. But the system it built, linking together 72 qubits proved too difficult to control. It eventually revamped the system to create a 53-qubit design it codenamed Sycamore.

The system was given the task of proving that a random-number generator was truly random. Though that job has little practical application, Google researchers said that “other initial uses for this computational capability” included machine learning, material science, and chemistry.

“It’s a significant milestone, and the first time that somebody has shown that quantum computers could outperform classical computers at all,” said Steve Brierley, founder of quantum software start-up Riverlane, who has worked in the field for 20 years and is an adviser on quantum technologies to the UK government. “It’s an amazing achievement.”

To illustrate where we are with Quantum computers today, think of it as 1945 when only five mainframe computers existing in the world, all in the US and England. That’s when IBM founder Thomas Watson famously predicted that “the total market for computers is five.”

Oops.

AI and the New Healthcare

The first major industry to be fundamentally disrupted by artificial intelligence will be healthcare, America’s last 19th-century industry.

Major diseases are being cured at such a dramatic pace that if you can survive the next decade, chances are you can live forever.

DNA is the software of life and spending $3 billion to decode it by 2003 was the best investment the U.S. government ever made.

These are the opinions expressed by longtime friend Dr. Ray Kurzweil. These ideas may seem like the ravings of a mad lunatic. However, Kurzweil long ago became used to such criticisms. The funny thing is, his very long-term predictions have a nasty habit of coming true.

For Kurzweil is the head of engineering at Google (GOOG), the co-founder of the Singularity University, and an early AI evangelist.

The outer shell of the human brain, the neocortex, is where we do all of our higher thinking, problem-solving and imagining. It first appeared in our pre-mammalian ancestors some 200 million years ago.

The neocortex enjoyed a sudden growth spurt 2 million years ago for reasons no one understands. Maybe that’s when we came out of the trees. This gave homo sapiens a huge advantage over all other life forms on earth.

The next step in our intellectual evolution will be carried out by AI. By connecting our neocortex to the Internet, we will improve our intelligence by a billion-fold. Imagine everyone you come in contact with is a billion times smarter than they are today.

Ironically, such advances in human bionic connections have been greatly advanced by our recent wars in the Middle East, which created large numbers of quadriplegic veterans desperate for contact with the outside world.

Defense research dollars have poured in to meet this need. Last year, I saw a classified video of a disabled soldier operating a computer just by thinking about keystrokes.

Kurzweil calls such a connection the Singularity, where humans and computers become one. He envisions this taking place on a large scale by the mid-2040s.

We already know how this will affect civilization because the billion-fold improvement in intelligence is already available in our hand in the form of a smartphone. All that is missing is the human/machine connection.

Over the past 1,000 years, human life expectancy has improved fourfold, from 19 to 80. As a result, a raft of new diseases has appeared only in the past century that show up late in life, such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia.

The problem with this is that a millennium is but a nanosecond in the course of human evolution. Human T-cells have not had the time to evolve to fend off an attack from a cancer cell, which is why the disease is ravaging the human race today. Cancer rates are up exponentially from the 19th century.

Fortunately, there is a way to speed up the evolutionary process. Microscopic nanobots the size of red blood cells can be designed to go after specific cancers, and then injected in swarms in your bloodstream to attack them.

Such technologies require precise manufacturing at the atomic level and will be available in the early 2030s. I have seen pictures of such nanobots myself under an electron microscope in the scientific literature.

Alternatively, with some diseases, such as diabetes, all we need to do is to reprogram our software (DNA) to produce more insulin. This can be done with monoclonal antibodies, whereby a length of bad DNA is excised and a good one installed.

By the end of 2017, the Food and Drug Administration had approved nearly 100 such molecules to deal with a whole range of genetic diseases. Click here for the list.

Such advances will soon lead to what Kurzweil calls “Longevity Escape Velocity,” where advances in medical research are taking place faster than the natural aging process. Then we will only have to deal with senescence cells, which are internally programmed to turn themselves off at a certain age. Presumably, monoclonal antibodies will be able to turn these back on as well.

Of course, the investment implications of all of this will be prodigious. Perhaps, that’s why the shares of the entire healthcare sector (XLV) and big pharma (XPH) have been on an absolute tear for the past two years.

I believe that technology and healthcare stocks will overwhelmingly be the major outperformers over the next two decades. We are seeing the profits from these revolutionary advances sill into companies such as Pfizer (PFE), Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY), and Merck (MRK).

However, all the healthcare advances in the world are not going to help you if you keep eating cheeseburger for lunch every day. One study I always like to cite took place during WWII when the global food supply shrank dramatically, and everyone was put on a strict mandatory diet. The incidence of every major disease fell by 30%.

At the end of the day, plenty of sleep, healthy eating, and exercise will always remain the greatest life extenders. Kurzweil himself has been an ardent vegetarian for most of his life.

As for me, I rather have a good steak once a month and settle for living only to 120.

Keep renewing those newsletter subscriptions!

 

 

 

The Next Cancer Cure?

Ten More Reasons Why Bonds Won’t Crash

I have never been one to run with the pack.

I’m the guy who eternally marches to a different drummer, not in the next town, but the other hemisphere.

I would never want to join a club that would lower its standards so far that it would invite me as a member. (Groucho Marx told me that just before he died).

On those rare times that I do join the lemmings, I am punished severely.

Like everyone and his brother, his fraternity mate, and his long-lost cousin, I thought bonds would fall this year and interest rates would rise.

After all, this is normally what you get in the eleventh year of an economic recovery. This is usually when corporate America starts to expand capacity and borrow money with both hands, driving rates up.

Of course, looking back with laser-sharp 20/20 hindsight, it is so clear why fixed income securities of every description have refused to crash.

I will give you 10 reasons why bonds won’t crash. In fact, they may not reach a 3% yield for decades.

1) The Federal Reserve is pushing on a string, attempting to force companies to increase hiring, keeping interest rates at artificially low levels.

My theory on why this isn’t working is that companies have become so efficient, thanks to hyper-accelerating technology, that they don’t need humans anymore. They also don’t need to add capacity.

2) The U.S. Treasury wants low rates to finance America’s massive $22.5 trillion and growing national debt. Move rates from 0% to 6% and you have an instant financial crisis, and maybe even a government debt default.

3) Constant tit-for-tat saber-rattling by the leaders of China and the United States has created a strong underlying flight to safety bid for Treasury bonds.

The choices for 10-year government bonds are Japan at -0.25%, Germany at -0.50%, and the U.S. at +1.62%. It all makes our bonds look like a screaming bargain.

4) This recovery has been led by consumer spending, not big-ticket capital spending.

5) The Fed’s policy of using asset price inflation to spur the economy has been wildly successful. But bonds are included in these assets, and they have benefited the most.

6) New rules imposed by Dodd-Frank force institutional investors to hold much larger amounts of bonds than in the past.

7) The concentration of wealth with the top 1% also generates more bond purchases. It seems that once you become a billionaire, you become ultra conservative and only invest in safe fixed-income products. The priority becomes “return of capital” rather than “return on capital.”

This is happening globally. For more on this, click here for “The 1% and the Bond Market.”

8) Inflation? Come again? What’s that? Commodity, energy, precious metal, and food prices are disappearing up their own exhaust pipes. Industrial revolutions produce deflationary centuries, and we have just entered the third one in history (after No. 1, steam, and No. 2, electricity).

9) The psychological effects of the 2008-2009 crash were so frightening that many investors will never recover. That means more bond buying and less buying of all other assets.

10) The daily chaos coming out of Washington and the extreme length of this bull market is forcing investors to hold more than the usual amount of bonds in their portfolios. Believe it or not, many individuals still adhere to the ancient wisdom of owning their age in bonds.

I can’t tell you how many investment advisors I know who have converted their practices to bond-only ones.

Call me an ornery, stubborn, stupid old man.

Hey, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once a day.

 

 

 

Coffee With Ray Kurzweil

After spending a half-century in the investment business, I see all decisions boiling down to a single issue: Artificial Intelligence.

Speaking to people at the local PTA, American Legion, the VFW, the Commonwealth Club, people sitting next to me at high school football games, and even my own readers, this is the impression I get. AI is rapidly working its way into every aspect of our lives. But then I live in Silicon Valley where everyone works in tech or in supporting service industries.

Companies that lead with AI, such as Google (GOOG), Amazon (AMZN), Facebook (FB), and Microsoft (MSFT) will prosper mightily. Those that don’t will disappear.

Technology companies now comprise 26% of U.S. stock market capitalization and 50% of corporate profits. They are on their way to 100% on both counts. Other industries may see the occasional brief, frenetic stock market rallies, which will quickly fade away.

Investing now is really ALL about technology with the exception of biotech and health care, which you really can consider “soft” technology.

So, I thought it timely to catch up with my old friend, Dr. Ray Kurzweil, head of engineering at Google (GOOG), the co-founder of the Singularity University, and an early AI evangelist.
 
A decade ago, Kurzweil pitched Google co-founder Larry Page for a venture capital investment in an AI start-up. Larry responded by buying the entire company, even though it was only two weeks old. That brought Kurzweil in-house and gave him first call on Google’s prodigious resources. 

To understand the recent spate of AI breakthroughs, you have to go back two years ago and see how a computer beat a human at the traditional Chinese game of Go. Long a goal of AI developers, Go is the most complex game ever played by humans, with 324 squares (18 X 18) and 361 stones. That means there are 2.08 X 10 to the 170th power possible moves, or more than double the number of electrons in the universe.

Scientists downloaded all known online Go moves in history, of which there were about 1 million. They then programmed a superfast mainframe to simulate 1 billion more Go moves. After that, beating all humans was a piece of cake.

You can apply this approach to more than just games. Google’s Waymo autonomous driving division lets cars drive themselves 8 million miles and then simulated another 1 billion miles. That’s why they are so far ahead in the field.

You can also employ the same strategy when asking computers to identify new drugs by running simulations against a decoded human genome. The possibilities boggle the mind.

And the stock market? How about the accuracy of the Mad Hedge Market Timing Index, which takes market data from that last 100 years and then simulates another 1,000 years on top of that. And you wonder why it’s always right, and why I’m up 30% this year.

The fruits of those labors are found today in many Google services, such as Google Assistant and Google Home, which are growing smarter by the day. “Semantic Search” is the order of the day whereby searches are made on the basis of meaning and context, instead of my keywords alone. I work with Google all day long and the progression has been nothing less than astounding.

Just around the corner are “Smart Replies.” Google will be able to read 120,000 books, or 600 million sentences, in ½ second, and come up with the best three possible answers to every question of yours. If you’re willing to wait a few minutes, you can get the best three answers from every book ever written.

The term “AI” was coined at a famed conference at Dartmouth College in 1956. Don’t be intimidated. AI is simply superfast pattern recognition that any off-the-shelf Excel spreadsheet can accomplish done on ever faster supercomputers.

Kurzweil believes computers will pass the Turing Test by 2029, when their answers to any questions will be indistinguishable from a human. Miniaturization is another exponential trend that will place human intelligence on any smartphone by the 2030s.
 
Create a bionic link between your smart phone and your brain and the “singularity” is here, which Kurzweil believes will take place by the 2040s.

Kurzweil is a firm believer of the “Law of Accelerating Returns,” whereby the productivity of technology doubles every year. Costs drop by the similar amount, creating a radical deflation.

He argues that modern economic theories are broken, and I have argued this myself in the past. So much of technology’s output is free, and therefore immeasurable, that true GDP growth has been wildly underestimated.

And you wonder why inflation has been near zero for a decade, while the value of your home has doubled, and the efficiency of your cell phone has improved by a trillion-fold for a lower real price. Kurzweil expects 5 billion cell phones to be in circulation by 2020.

Moore’s law, where semiconductor price/performance doubled every year, reached its theoretical limits in 2016. All of the growth in processing power since then has been due to “3D Stacking,” where layers of processors are piled one on top of the other. The next generation of processors will see a once unimaginable 96 layers.

And if you think this is all very interesting, wait a decade or two until we get quantum computers, which will increase computing power by a trillion-fold. Quantum computers rely on the infinite number of directions electrons can spin, rather than the simple on-or-off gates of traditional legacy computers.

Sometime this year, Kurzweil will publish a sequel to his last book called “The Singularity is Nearer.” It will no doubt be the AI blockbuster of the year.

Earlier this year, he launched into fiction for the first time, publishing “Danielle” in April, which is about a girl who solves all the problems of the world by the age of 22 with the tools we have available to us today. To learn more about this project, please visit www.danielleworld.com.

 

Go is a Piece of Cake if You can Simulate a Billion Moves

The New AI Book That Investors are Scrambling For

A better headline for this piece would be “The Future of You,” as artificial intelligence is about to become so integral to your work, your investment portfolio, and even your very existence that you won’t be able to live without it quite literally.

Well, do I have some great news for you. A blockbuster book about the state of play on all things AI was released in September last year, and I managed to obtain and read a copy before it was released. The title is AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order by Dr. Kai-Fu Lee.

The bottom line: The future is even more unbelievable than you remotely imagined. We are in the very early days of this giant megatrend, and the investment opportunities will be nothing less than spectacular.

And here is a barn burner. The price of AI is dropping fast as hundreds of thousands of new programmers pour into the field. Those $10 million signing bonuses are about to become a thing of the past.

Dr. Lee is certainly someone to take seriously. He obtained one of the first PhDs in AI from Carnegie Mellon University. He was the president of Google (GOOG) China and put in stints at Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple (AAPL). Today, he is the CEO of Sinovation Ventures, the largest AI venture capital firm in China, and is a board director of Alibaba (BABA).

AI is nothing more than deep learning, or super pattern recognition. Dr. Lee dates the onset of artificial intelligence to 1952 when an IBM mainframe computer learned to play checkers and beat human opponents. By 1955, it learned to develop strategies on its own.

Dr. Lee sees the AI field ultimately divided into two spheres of dominance, the U.S. and China. No one else is devoting a fraction of the resources needed to become a serious player. The good news is that Russia and Iran are nowhere in the game.

While the U.S. dominates in the original theory and algorithms that founded AI, China is about to take the lead in applications. It can do this because it has access to mountains of data that dwarf those available in America. China processes three times more mobile phones, five times more Internet customers, 10 times more eat-out orders, and 50 times more mobile transactions. In a future where data is the currency, this is huge.

The wake-up call for China in applications took place two years ago when U.S. and Korean AI programs beat grandmasters in the traditional Chinese game of Go. Long a goal of AI programmers, this great leap forward took place 20 years earlier than had been anticipated. This created an AI stampede in the Middle Kingdom that led to the current bubble.

The result has been applications that are still in the realm of science fiction in the U.S. The Chinese equivalent of eBay (EBAY), Taobao, doesn’t charge fees because its customer base is so big it can remain profitable on ad revenues only. Want to be more beautiful in your selfies sent to friends? A Chinese app will do that for you, Beauty Plus.

The Chinese equivalent of Yelp, Dianping, has 600,000 deliverymen on mopeds. The number of takeout meals is so vast that it has been able to drop delivery costs from $6 a meal to 60 cents. As a result, traditional restaurants are dying out in China.

Teachers in Chinese schools no longer take attendance. Students are checked off when they enter the classroom by facial recognition software. And heaven help you if you jaywalk in a Chinese city. Similar software will automatically issue you a citation with a fine and send it to your home.

Credit card fraud is actually on the decline in China as dubious transactions are blocked by facial matching software. The bank simply calls you, asks you to look into your phone, takes your picture, and then matches it with the image they have on file.

Dr. Lee sees AI unfolding in four waves, and there are currently companies operating in every one of these (see graph below):

1) Internet AI

The creation of black boxes and specialized algorithms that opened the door to monetizing code. This was the path for today’s giants that dominate online commerce, Google (GOOG), Amazon (AMZN), JD.com (JD), and Facebook (FB). Alibaba (BABA), Baidu (BIDU), and Tencent followed.

2) Business AI

Think big data. This is the era we just entered where massive data from online customers, financial transactions, and healthcare led to the writing of new algorithms that maximize profitability. Suddenly, companies can turn magic knobs to achieve desired goals, such as stepping up penetration or monetization.

3) Perception AI

Using trillions of sensors worldwide, analog data on any movement, facial expression, sound, and image are converted into digital data and then mined for conclusions by more advanced algorithms. Cameras are suddenly everywhere. Amazon’s Alexa is the first step in this process, where your conversations are recorded and then mined for keywords about your every want and desire.

Think of autonomous fast food where you walk in your local joint and it immediately recognizes you, offers you your preferred dishes, and then auto bills your online account for your purchase. Amazon has already done this with a Whole Foods store in Seattle.

4) Autonomous AI

Think every kind of motion. AI will get applied to autonomous driving, local shuttles, factory forklifts, assembly lines, and inspections of every kind. Again, data and processing demand take an enormous leap upward. Tesla (TSLA), Waymo (GOOG), and Uber are already very active in this field.

The book focuses a lot on the future of work. Dr. Lee creates a four-part scatter chart predicting the viability of several types of skills based on optimization, compassion, creativity, and strategy (see below).

If you are a truck driver, in customer support, or a dishwasher, or engage in any other repetitive and redundant profession, your outlook is grim. If you can supplement AI, such as a CEO, economist, or marketing head, you’ll do fine. People who can do what AI can’t, such as teachers and artists, will prosper.

The Investment Angle

There have been only two ways to invest in AI until now. You can buy shares in any of the seven giants above whose shares have already risen for 100- or 1,000-fold.

You can invest in the nets and bolts parts providers, such as NVIDIA (NVDA), Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Micron Technology (MU), and Lam Research (LRCX), which provide the basic building blocks for the Internet infrastructure.

Fortunately for our paid subscribers, the Mad Hedge Trade Alert Service caught all of these very early.

What’s missing is the “in-between companies,” which are out of your reach because they are locked up in university labs or venture capital funds. Many of these never see the light of day as public companies because they get taken over by the tech giants above. It’s effectively a closed club that won’t let outsiders in. It’s a dilemma that vexes any serious technology investor.

When quantum computing arrives in a decade, you can take all the functionality above and multiply it by a trillion-fold, while costs drop a similar amount. That’s when things really get interesting. But then, I’ve seen trillion-fold increases in technology before.

I hope I live to see another.

 

 

 

 

Personally, I Prefer the Original

The Market Outlook for the Week Ahead, or Interesting Times are Upon Us

“May you live in interesting times.” The question is whether this old Chinese proverb is a blessing or a curse.

Our beleaguered lives have certainly been getting more interesting by the day, if not the hour. Trump has been withholding military aid from foreign leaders to fish for dirt on those who may run against him in 2020. The prospects of the Chinese trade negotiations seem to flip flop by the day.

Prospective IPOs for Saudi ARAMCO and WeWork have been stood up against a wall and shot. The Altria (MO) – Philip Morris (PM) merger went up in smoke. Brexit (FXB) has turned into a runaway roller coaster that has lost its brakes. And that was just last week!

All of this is happening with the major indices (SPY), ($INDU) mere inches away from all-time highs, with valuations at the high end of the decade-old band. A worse risk/reward for initiating new positions I can’t imagine. I think I’ll go take a long nap instead.

There are times to trade and there are times to engage in research and this is definitely time for the latter. That means when it is time to strike, you already have a list of short names on which to execute. The worst time to initiate research is when the Dow is down 1,000 points.

I believe the markets are gridlocked until we get a good look at Q3 corporate earnings. If they are as bad as the macro data is suggesting, markets will tank. If they aren’t, we may see a begrudging slow-motion grind up to new highs.

Our launch of the Mad Hedge Biotech and Healthcare Letter was a huge success. Let me tell you, we have some real blockbusters lined up in our newsletter queue. The Tuesday letter will have a link that will enable you to get in at the $997 a year founders’ price. Otherwise, you can find it in our store now for $1,500 a year. Please click here.

The WeWork IPO is on the Rocks, with the CEO soon to be fired for self-dealing. In any case, the company has minimal added value and will not survive the next recession when the bulk of its tenants walk. Don’t touch this one on pain of death, even down three quarters from its original valuation.

Watch out for October, says Goldman Sachs (GS), which will see a volatility (VIX) spike 25%. Shockingly poor Q3 corporate earnings results could be the trigger with almost every company negatively impacted by the trade war. This could set up our next entry point on the long side.

The Saudi ARAMCO IPO is on the skids in the wake of the mass drone attack. Terrorist attacks on your key infrastructure is not a great selling point for new shareholders. It just underlines the high-risk investing in the area. The world’s largest IPO may get cancelled.

A huge killing was made on the Thomas Cook affair. It looks like short sellers raked in $2.7 billion in profits on the collapse. Some 600,000 mostly British travelers were stranded or had future vacations cancelled.

Thomas Cook never figured out the Internet, were destroyed by the collapse of the pound triggered by Brexit and, horror upon horrors, bought an airline. It’s all great news for surviving European tour operators and discount airlines. Airfares are already rising.

The S&P Case Shiller ticked up in July, showing that the National Home Price Index rising 3.2%. It’s the first positive move in more than a year. It’s got to be super-low interest rates finally kicking in. But the real move up won’t start until SALT deductions come back in 18 months.

That went over like a lead balloon. From the moment Trump started speaking at the United Nations, stocks went into free fall, dropping 450 points from top to bottom. It’s trade war against everyone all the time with his withdrawal from globalization. Oh, and if you want to resist America’s incredible military might, we will crush you. It’s not what traders wanted to hear.

In the meantime, the impeachment moved forward, with younger Democrats forcing Pelosi’s hand. The Ukraine scandal, a Trump effort to have candidate Joe Biden arrested, was the stick that broke the camel’s back. Fortunately, the stock market could care less. Stocks rose 20% during the last impeachment in the 1990s.

US Consumer Confidence dove in September from 133 estimated down to 125.1 as trade war concerns take their toll. It’s one of the first September data points to come out and presages worse to come. News fatigue has to be a factor.

Bitcoin
Crashed 15% to a new three-month low, hitting $7,944. Other cryptos fell 20%. All of the explanations were technical as they always are with this bogus asset class.

The Vaping Crisis demoed the Altria-Philip Morris merger. Suddenly, the crown jewels are toxic and about to be made illegal. The Juul CEO has resigned and the company may be about to go down the tubes. One of the largest mergers in history that would have created a $200 billion company has been tossed on the dustbin of history.

In a rare positive data point, New Homes Sales soared 7.1% in August to a 713,000 annualized rate. Median sales prices rise by 2.2% YOY to $328,400. Inventories drop from 5.9 to 5.5 months. The big numbers are happening in the south and west. Historically low-interest rates are kicking in big time.

The FTC Slammed Match Group (MTCH), the owner of Tinder and OK Cupid, for security lapses and scamming their own customers. Apparently, that gorgeous six-foot blond who speaks six languages who want to meet me if I only subscribed doesn’t actually exist. Oh well.

Q2 GDP final read came in at 2.0% with no change from the last report. Coming quarters will almost certainly be worse as the chickens come home to roost from a global trade war. We may already be in a recession and not know it. Inventories are building at a tremendous rate. Certainly, Fortune 500 CEOs think so.

Tesla deliveries may hit new high in Q3, topping 100,000, according to last week’s leak. The stock is back in play. It looks like I am going to get a new entertainment package upgrade too.

The Mad Hedge Trader Alert Service has blasted through to yet another new all-time high. My Global Trading Dispatch reached new apex of 336.07% and my year-to-date accelerated to +39.47%. The tricky and volatile month of September closed out +3.08%. at My ten-year average annualized profit bobbed up to +34.53%. 

Some 25 out of the last 27 trade alerts have made money, a success rate of 92.59%. Under-promise and over-deliver, that’s the business I have been in all my life. It works.

I took profits in my short position in oil (USO) earlier in the week, capturing a 12% decline there. That gives me a rare 100% cash position. I’m itching to get back in, but conditions right now are terrible

The coming week is all about the September jobs reports. It seems like we just went through those.

On Monday, September 30 at 9:45 AM, the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index for September is out.

On Tuesday, October 1 at 10:00 AM, the US Construction Spending for August is published

On Wednesday, October 2, at 8:15 AM, we learn the ADP Private Employment Report is out for September.

On Thursday, October 3 at 8:30 AM, the Weekly Jobless Claims are printed. At 3:00 PM, we get US Vehicle Sales for September.

On Friday, October 4 at 8:30 AM, the September Nonfarm Payroll Report is announced. Last month was a big disappointment so this month could set a new trend.

The Baker Hughes Rig Count is released at 2:00 PM.

As for me, I’ll be camping out with 2,500 Boy Scouts at the Solano Fair Grounds to attend Advance Camp. That’s where scouts have the opportunity to earn any of 50 merit badges in a single day.

I will be teaching the Swimming Merit Badge class. The basic idea is that if you throw a scout in the pool and he doesn’t drown, he passes. Personally, I wanted to take the welding class. The bonus is that we get to ride nearby roller coasters at Six Flags for free.

Good luck and good trading.

John Thomas
CEO & Publisher
The Diary of a Mad Hedge Fund Trader

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If Bonds Can’t Go Down, Stocks Can’t Either

The U.S. Treasury bond market has suddenly ground to a halt, puzzling traders, investors, and hedge fund managers alike.

Last week, the yield on the 10-year Treasury bond (TLT), (TBT) traded as low at 1.64% and as high as 1.90%

This is despite the U.S. economy delivering a mediocre 2.0% Q2 GDP growth rate, a massive tax cut, a huge deregulation push, and corporate profits at all-time highs.

If I blindfolded any professional money manager, told him the above and asked him where the 10-year Treasury yield should be, most would come in at around the 5% level.

So what gives?

I have put a great deal of thought into this and the answer can be distilled down to two letters: QE.

Global quantitative easing has created about $17 trillion in new money over the past 10 years. It has not been spent, it hasn’t disappeared, nor has it gone to money heaven. It is still around.

The U.S. Federal Reserve, the first to start QE in November 2008, ended it in October 2014. From start to finish, it created $4.5 trillion in new money. Over the past five years, this has been wound down to $3.8 trillion by letting debt on its balance sheet mature.

Japan actually began its QE program in 2001, long before anyone else, to deal with the aftermath of the 1990 Japanese stock market crash and a massive demographic headwind (they’re not making Japanese anymore).

Some 19 years later, the Japanese government now owns virtually all of the debt in the country. When you hear about Japan’s prodigious 240% debt to GDP ratio, it’s nonsense. Net out government holdings and there is no national debt in Japan at all.

After the 2008 crash, the Japanese government expended its QE to include equities as well. As a result, the government is now the largest single buyer of stocks there. The Nikkei Average has risen by 233% since the 2009 bottom despite a miserable economic performance, and the yield on 10-year JGB’s stand at a lowly -0.26%.

The European Central Bank got into the QE game very late, not until 2015, and its program continues anew, although at half its peak rate. The ECB has just renewed its plan to print a ton of new money.

Part of the problem is that the ECB is running out of bonds to buy, as it already owns most of the paper issued by European entities. That’s why 10-year German bunds are yielding a paltry -0.59%.

As a result, there is excess liquidity everywhere and this has broad implications for your investment or retirement portfolio. It could take as long as a decade before all of this artificial cash is removed from the global financial system.

For a start, bonds may not fall much from here, even if the Fed continues its schedule of 25 basis point rate rises every quarter.

Stocks can’t fall either with this much cash underpinning the market, at least not for a while and not by much. Some $1 trillion in company share buybacks in a $27-trillion market is also a big help.

It also means you can’t have a global contagion leading to a financial crisis. There is ample money available to refinance your way out of any problem when 70% of the world’s debt is still yielding close to zero. This means that the current Turkish (TUR) crisis is yet another buying opportunity for U.S. stocks, as has every geopolitical crisis of the past decade.

The bottom line here is that global excess liquidity can cover up a lot of sins. It means the price of everything has to go up, or at least stay level until that liquidity runs out. That includes stocks, bonds, your home, classic cars, and even that rare coin collection of yours gathering dust in a safe deposit box somewhere.

Yes, when the excess free cash runs out in a decade, there will be hell to pay. Until then, make hay while the sun shines.

 

 

 

 

 

Hay